Norway, the Environment and Making Things Last

Norway has the same size of population as Scotland (yes, we know, we keep being told this fact), but with five times as much space and a land where you could expect to live 5 years longer and pay 6% more tax. So I traveled 4◦ North to find out more. And in doing so, I returned to Edinburgh with a reinforced understanding of the importance of considered design and making things last.

Boat Building, Alesund, Norway

Boat Building, Alesund, Norway, 2015

9th Century Viking Ship

9th Century Viking Ship

Visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo and you will be struck by the elegance of the 9th Century ships but possibly even more stunned by the fact that they are so well preserved. Built almost entirely from oak and with exquisite detailing, they have certainly stood the test of time. Visit the Art Nouveau town of Alesund on the West coast (Noway’s most important fishing harbour) and the skill continues –  you can spot timber ships being meticulously crafted with a view to lasting another few centuries.

Looking into the Opera and Ballet House From the Roof

Looking into the Opera and Ballet House From the Roof

I’m no architect but it doesn’t take an expert to see that the Norwegians have a healthy appetite for enterprising buildings – take the firm Snohetta , responsible for the stunning wild reindeer pavilion on the outskirts of the Dovrefjell National Park and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet home in Oslo. The Opera house looks like an iceberg floating on the waterfront and actively entices and encourages you to walk over the structure, even on the roof where you get tantalising glimpses of activity in the building under your feet. It’s not an inanimate public building plonked down, the structure is like a new urban walkway, an adult climbing frame. It’s engaging, connects with the public and is fun.

Walking on the Roof of The Opera and Ballet House, Oslo

Walking on the Roof of The Opera and Ballet House, Oslo

Looking to the Business Sector from the Roof of the Opera House, Oslo

Looking to the Business Sector from the Roof of the Opera House, Oslo

Walk around the suburbs in Oslo and you will see nestled in amongst early twentieth century homes, thoughtful new school buildings. Can you imagine the positive long term impact it will have on the kids being immersed in such considered buildings. They are imaginative buildings – I’m sure if you asked the kids from the school pictured below to draw a house, they will come up with many ideas – not just the classic square with a triangle roof.

A Timber School, Oslo

A Timber School, Oslo

Older Properties in the Suburbs, Oslo

Older Properties in the Suburbs, Oslo

I have to confess that it was while sitting in the cinema in Edinburgh that I decided to visit Norway. I was watching the 2015 film, Ex Machina, and knew as soon as I saw the landscape and architecture in the film that I had to get to wherever it was set at some point in my life. As soon as I was home I googled the film set and found it was filmed in the Juvet Landscape Hotel about a two hour drive East from Alesund.

Phoning the Juvet just intrigued me even more. The super polite but no nonsense owner, Knut, said, “you shall be in a bird box, supper is at 8 o clock in the barn and there is a sauna, but don’t expect cucumber, this is not a spa” …

I don’t want tell you too much about the Juvet, all I can say is go if you can. Everything about it is remarkable and you will meet remarkable people who you will have enriching and fascinating conversations with. The hotel in no way spoils the stunning environment, you can barely see it and once immersed in your bird box, you are utterly dwarfed by nature, it’s the ultimate tonic to a fast machine driven life. Knut told me the area was called ‘the land of the low shoulders’ and he’s right. You leave the place with your shoulders where they should be i.e not wrapped round your ears!

A Room at the Juvet Landscape Hotel

A Room at the Juvet Landscape Hotel

supper in the barn

Supper in the barn – foraged, preserved and respected food

Juvet Landscape Hotel

Juvet Landscape Hotel

And I don’t suppose I need to tell you that the walking here is incredible – they even have huts dotted around the mountains equivalent to the Scottish bothy.

Hillwalking in Norway

Hillwalking in Norway

This post is too long already so I will follow it with another Norwegian post next time but what I was meaning to say was that everywhere I travelled, I noticed people were outside a lot – this I think is the crux. The cafes had blankets so you could sit outdoors, the homes had outdoor spaces, terraces, balconies, the food we were served was grown or caught in front of us, the buildings, both old and new were imaginative and reflected the all important environment. Everything I saw seemed to be high quality and making use of local materials. I know it’s a wealthy county but things were built to last and crucially I sensed that there was still a real connection to the environment and outside world, a real respect for it. This is a country where jumpers suitable for polar conditions are made and still passed down the generations because they don’t fall apart, they last. Some places as we all know have lost this connection in favour of buy cheap and the throw away.

However, I really think this ethos is returning, I certainly see it here in Scotland. People are starting to look again for considered purchases and I’m meeting more and more makers and designers confident in selling their higher priced quality and ethical products. I think we are all slowly realising we don’t need quite as much stuff and are thinking more carefully about what we do buy. Certainly more and more people are taking to the hills in their free time and I’m sure it’s that connection to the great outdoors that is key to the way we think and behave.

 So what do you think? Are you more careful about what you buy and from whom? Do you feel connected to the environment?

I know and understand I’m very fortunate to be able to make these choices and to visit beautiful places but if reconnecting to the great outdoors is key to a higher quality of life for all, that’s got to be a good thing and it’s a resource we all have on our doorsteps.

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When We are Deprived of Colour…

If you’ve read my blog before (thank you), you will know that I am a big fan of Iceland –  see Colour At The Edge and Inspiration From Reykjavik. I was over again last week and something dawned on me. What do you do if your natural surroundings starve you of colour? Of course, I know there is colour in Iceland – the hot lava and the bubbling mineral pools (below) but much of the country is covered in barren lava fields (second image). Add to this the long dark Winters and the mild but often grey Summers and you soon discover that there are a lot of natural grey tones to this magical island.

 

A beautiful blue hot pool

A beautiful blue hot pool

Lava fields near Keflavik

Lava fields near Keflavik

So, a lot, even perhaps an excess of grey around.

What happens to compensate for the lack of colour is this…

Interiors BURST with colour

Interiors BURST with colour

and you paint your homes like this…

You Paint Your Homes BRIGHT

You Paint Your Homes BRIGHT

and your computer power cables get some treatment too:

power cables

and your road signs and bollards look like this:

Reykjavik streets

and one of your most celebrated Icelandic artists, Erro,  paints in this palette:

Icelandic Pop Artist Erro

Icelandic Pop Artist Erro

and shops look like this:

A Shop in Reykjavik

A Shop in Reykjavik

Ok, I think you can see what I’m saying. Starve the human psyche of colour and soon we will find our way to compensate.

Reykjavik Rooftops

Reykjavik Rooftops

But something else struck me on this visit. At first I thought the parks and small gardens looked rather untended. They were full of weeds, dandelions, buttercups and cow parsley mainly, growing out of every crack or gutter. But remember, it’s pretty difficult for anything to grow here on the hard lava rocks and the tricky climate. If you had a barren patch of land and a bright yellow flower appeared, you are hardly going to go and pull it out are you? They absolutely embrace little plants that we in Britain get excited about pulling out. I quite honestly see my garden at home with new light, and it’s not just an excuse to avoid weeding, it’s about appreciating life form.

Buttercups next to Tjornin

Buttercups next to Tjornin

 

And one last thing. Artist and product designer Almar Alfredsson, has just designed a set of wall plaques to commemorate Iceland’s 70 years of Independence this year. It’s a replica of a copper plate from 1944 showing the head of Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879) whose birthday, the 17th of June was chosen to be Iceland’s annual National Holiday  in recognition of his work on independence. And of course, why are these plaques so attractive and collectible? – he designed them in several bright colours of course!

 

Jon Plaques by Almar Alfredsson

Jon Plaques by Almar Alfredsson

 

 

 

Dyslexia and Interiors

I recently came across a photograph of my Great Grand Father taken around 1904. He was an artist and the photo is taken in his studio in London. But something jarred with me right away.

I live in a house with no pattern at all, no  pattered cushions or pattered curtains or bed linen. I dress in plain blocks of colour and actually feel quite unwell if I try to wear patterns. I’ve never really given it much thought, despite people often mentioning my ‘minimal’ or ‘ordered’ taste.

Looking at the vintage photo all I see is the wallpaper jumping out at me, confusing my mind into a chaotic tangle of thoughts. How on earth could Great Grand Father paint in such a decorative room? And very well he painted too as he exhibited at the Royal Academy Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute.

With help from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, I have been on a fascinating trail to try and identify the wallpaper in the studio. My findings will appear in The History of Wallpaper Review later this summer.

But back to pattern versus plain. As I spend a lot of time specifying wall colour, I thought I would do a little research into why some people are comfortable surrounded by pattern and some are definitely not.

I was diagnosed a ‘dyslexic’ when I was very young and have chosen to work in areas where right-brained individuals can thrive so therefore don’t give my label of dyslexia any thought…until now.

When you look up ‘symptoms of dyslexics’ on the web you will see lists containing  attributes such as being intuitive, sensitive, perfectionist, artistic, and often very orderly. All very nice. Something else I hadn’t clocked until now which made me smile – dyslexic children are often first to learn and identify colours! There are of course many other indicators including being very light sensitive, often ambidextrous, thinking in images rather than words, having a strong sense of justice and interestingly often left eared. Well I tick all of those boxes and more but then something popped up which may well answer the question as to why I choose to live in an uncluttered interior.

It is actually common for dyslexics to feel anxious in decorative interiors. They contain far too many random visual stimuli which can led an ordered mind of a dyslexic to become extremely anxious. Our minds which operate on visual imagery receives an overload of information which needs to be ordered and the task becomes overwhelming and leads to confusion and stress.

For me, this answers a lot of personal questions and for interior designers, it is important information to bear in mind. If your client includes decorating a  bedroom for a dyslexic child you could quite easily create a stunning room in your eyes but one which creates a lot of tension for a child. It is less likely to happen when working for a dyslexic adult because they are likely to have discovered their preferred ‘style’ which will almost certainly be very clean and simple i.e one where they feel at ease in.

So perhaps the Father of Modernism, Albert Loos who famously wrote, Ornament and Crime, was perhaps a fellow dyslexic? Well I would like to think so anyway…

Lisbon’s Light and Colours

For anyone who is even vaguely interested in colour and light  you really must visit Lisbon.  The clarity of the light is close to perfect helped of course by the  Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River reflecting light back on to this elegant city.

Old crumbling surfaces steeped in history, parched in the sun and beaten by strong salty winds present the most magical array of colours.

 

 

But in the same city, visit the Expo site built in 1998 and you will see squeaky clean shiny surfaces covering imaginative office buildings and pavilions.

And if this is not enough and interiors are more your thing, you will not be disappointed by the imaginative and often cutting edge designs gracing the city’s food havens – more about that in my next post….